NOT CATHOLICS: our Family Recollection at Brahma Kumaris Retreat Center

“Look. I know what I believe. It’s in my soul. But I constantly tell our people: you should be convinced of the authenticity of what you have, but you must also be humble enough to say that we don’t know everything. And since we don’t know everything, we must accept that another person may believe something else.”
He sighed. “I’m not being original here, Mitch. Most religions teach us to love our neighbor.”
I thought about how much I admired him at that moment. How he never, even in private, even in old age, tried to bully another belief, or bad-mouth someone else’s devotion. And I realized I had been a bit of a coward on this whole faith thing. I should have been more proud, less intimidated. I shouldn’t have bitten my tongue. If the only thing wrong with Moses is that he’s not yours; if the only thing wrong with Jesus is that he’s not yours; if the only thing wrong with mosques, Lent, chanting, Mecca, Buddha, confession, or reincarnation is that they’re not yours – well, maybe the problem is you.
One more question? I asked the Reb. He nodded.
When someone from another faith says, “God bless you,” what do you say?
“I say, “Thank you, and God bless you, too.” Really? “Why shouldn’t I?”
I went to answer and realized I had no answer. No answer at all.
-an excerpt from Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith

I could not remember exactly when I first heard of Brahma Kumaris Retreat Center in Tagaytay, it must have been years ago, but I do remember that one March morning, I found myself reading blogs about this place then I eventually decided to sign up my entire family to their Family and Friends Retreat for  April 27, 9AM to 4PM. The teaser said that it is “a retreat designed for families. This fun filled weekend experience offers special activities for children ages 8 and up”. Bingo, our youngest member is 11 years old; I informed all my family members through a text message and it went like this:

SAVE THIS DATE: APRIL 27, WHOLE DAY. WE’LL HAVE A RECOLLECTION, TAGAYTAY. NO EXCUSES

That morning, I have read around five blogs on the retreat center and they said fairly good things about the place, except for two tiny details: one, it is NOT a catholic center, and two, they serve only vegetarian food.

It is no secret that I adore Mitch Albom’s works, and since reading his real-life story novel Have a Little Faith four years ago, I have vowed to show respect, or a lot of times to just keep mum by way of showing respect, to other faiths. But I could not say the same for my family. My mom is a long time member of Couples for Christ, I believe she holds a high position in that group. All of us children are products of a Catholic school, Jesus Good Shepherd School. I (24), Yves (22), and Aje (17) were choristers while Yoyo our youngest, is currently an altar server. With this background, you might get the idea that it would be hard pressed to let them come close to a different faith, let alone endure an entire day in that setting. Thus, I kept it as a secret; I simply did not tell them. I have been bombarded with questions on whether there will be a mass or confession because when we were in high school, our retreats used to include those, I said there would be none; end of conversation.

Then fast forward to one month, Sunday, April 27 has arrived. I was so sleepy from PM duty so I did not drive to Tagaytay and we decided to ride a Public Utility Bus (PUB); we all agreed at the idea because we wanted to have the “fieldtrip feel”. We reside in Imus, Cavite and the bus fare from our place is Php60 to Php 62 depending on the bus company. All PUBs going to Tagaytay/Mendez/Nasugbu can be utilized. We got off at Magallanes Square; landmark is the group of establishments fronting Starbucks Tagaytay and Leslie’s Restaurant. The street beside Magallanes Square is called Magallanes Drive and that is where Brahma Kumaris is. According to the blogs, the place is walking distance from the highway, but my brothers insisted we ride on tricycles so we did, Php 10 per head.

We arrived at 08:30 AM at the center, if I may calculate, it took us 1 ½ hours from our house to get there. As we reach the entrance, my mom and sister knew that it was not a catholic center: I’m doomed! The sisters who welcomed us were not wearing veils; they were just in white overalls. I shoved my family to one corner for a quick pep talk and they all understood. Besides, we were not expecting anything for the day; we were there to discover the place and what it has to offer jointly. Mind you, this is our very FIRST recollection as a family, we have had countless recollections care of our school and work, but this is the first time that we are together: scary yet exciting all at the same time.

I registered our names and was given our nametags. For the registration fee, I was told over the phone that I need to prepare Php500 per head but when I was done writing on the forms, the sister gave me an envelope made of newspaper, and she said it was for the contribution. I said that since we were five, I have to pay Php2,500 right? She did not say anything, but merely smiled then left me dumbfounded.

When I regained my composure, we went on a tour inside the center as they learned that it was our first time to be there. At 09:15 AM, we gathered at the lecture room: there were 23 participants from five families. We do not know any of them. I told my mom that I hope the facilitators will not be boring; as we might get sleepy. The lecture started with an audiovisual presentation (AVP) of what Brahma Kumaris is; I learned that it is a non-sectarian organization with over 8,000 centers across 130 countries and their founder is Brahma Baba from India. I flinched when I heard ‘non-sectarian’ because there was one blog I’ve read that said that the religion here is Buddhism. I even prepared myself to just follow whatever instructions they tell me. Another thing I noticed is that we started the retreat without saying a prayer: this is really getting interesting.

After the AVP, we were asked on our expectations at the end of that day, my brother Yoyo gave the wittiest answer:

“Matulog po.” (To sleep)

The whole place broke up laughing.

The day went on with lectures in which the parents were separated from their children. I believe they shared their life stories, it was really brave for my mom to do it to people she just knew. The children were brought upstairs to a different room with another facilitator Brother Francis; and though he has imparted a lot of lessons to us, let me share some that had struck me the most:

  1. Bestfriend Story – sometimes we hurt ourselves
    · Check our assumptions
    · Suspend our judgements
    · Do not expect
    · Change our perceptions
  2. Check the correct answers in your life. Be grateful and never sleep with errors.
  3. One hundred peso bill story – nobody can reduce your value in His eyes, so pick up yourself.
  4. Nothing is coincidental, everything is providential.
  5. I am the soul inside my body.

FOOD

I was really apprehensive in this category; I called Brahma Kumaris twice to ask if we could bring packed food because I was afraid my siblings, especially my brothers, will not be able to eat what will be served. The sisters who answered my calls were very kind to decline my offer of bringing in food, they said it is prohibited, but assured me that my siblings can consume their cuisine.

And well, they did finish everything.

ELEVATED THOUGHTS

One of the lessons we were taught were the kinds of thoughts: there’s positive and negative (self-explanatory), necessary (those that are neither positive nor negative but essential to daily living, like eating, bathing, etc), and elevated thoughts or inspiring thoughts. Our last activity of the day was a family activity wherein we were each given clipboards with one bond paper with our names on it. Each family formed a small circle and the paper was passed from member to member then each has to write elevated thoughts for the person who owns the paper you are holding. We wrote Thank You’s, wishes, etc. You get the picture by now, yes, we all cried. It was a very long crying moment but very, very heart-felt.

My sister said I was the first in our family who cried and they just all followed. Yoyo was the last, he did so when he read the word “Thank”, funny boy.

During the reflection part, I thank the facilitators for the job well done because I was really surprised that my brothers did not get bored the entire day. Sometimes when we go shopping, they tend to get really bored and go home by themselves. But that day was different, they stayed and I felt that they genuinely enjoyed the experience. It has been such a long time since I attended something like this. Before, I always thought that I do it because it is a school requirement, but now it feels different because I did it with my family, with our own free will, and we felt beyond blessed. Really, nothing beats sharing something as important as spirituality with people who truly matters.

Now I believe that everything is providential, because I would not be anywhere else that day. When I feel like my application for Canada has become hopeless, I thought that maybe I was bound to stay here longer because if I already left, would I be able to share that beautiful experience with my loved ones?

I hope this blog pave ways for more people to do something about their spirituality just like how those others did to mine and my family’s. I apologize for such a long blog, but if you’ve reached it this far, might as well check out BK’s website for their next retreat schedules.

The event ended at around 5PM. When we left the venue, there were no tricycles waiting outside the entrance so we were forced to walk all the way to the highway. It was a long and tiring walk, maybe more than 10 minutes, but we were able to discuss the day’s event and I was sure that they truly were happy with the outcome. Nevertheless, the walk was tiring, I then made a mental note to bring the car on June 8, for the Beat Stress Retreat.

Have you recently went on a retreat with your family?

How was it?